A century later, this Holocaust survivor finally celebrates his bar mitzvah

JERUSALEM — Some things are worth waiting for.

Yisrael Kristal, 113, considered by Guinness World Records to be the world’s oldest man, celebrated his bar mitzvah 100 years after Jewish boys traditionally mark this rite of passage. (Girls sometimes mark the event at age 12.)

The ceremony, arranged by his daughter at his local synagogue in the coastal Israeli city of Haifa, was attended by 60 relatives and friends on Oct. 2.

“This was a miracle that came true in front of our eyes,” Kristal’s daughter, Shulamit Kuperstoch, told CNN. She said her father recited the Jewish “Shehechiyanu” prayer, which is said on new and novel occasions.

Kristal, who survived the Auschwitz death camp where his first wife died (his two children from that marriage died in the Nazi-controlled Lodz ghetto), was born in Poland on Sept. 15, 1903.

He didn’t celebrate his bar mitzvah on time because World War I was in full swing. His father returned from war, only to die a year later. His mother had died three years earlier.

“He doesn’t really remember anything from his 13th birthday. It was just another day and there was no reason to celebrate,” Kuperstoch told the New York Post.

“He just remembers he was given his cousin’s tefillin to use,” she added, referring to a set of small black leather boxes that Jewish men wrap around their arms during morning prayers.

The Orthodox jew continues to pray every day, his daughter said.

Kuperstoch said her father’s longevity doesn’t surprise the family, given his will to survive.

When he was liberated from Auschwitz “he weighed 81 pounds, but he gathered himself, he remarried, he had more children and he built a new family. And he never once said, ‘It’s too hard, I’m done, I want to die.’ Never.”

In 1950, Kristal and his second wife and son immigrated to Israel, where he opened a candy factory. His daughter was born in Israel.

When Guinness World Records crowned Kristal the World’s Oldest Man earlier this year, he said he credited God with giving him a long life.

“I believe that everything is determined from above and we shall never know the reasons why. There have been smarter, stronger and better-looking men than me who are no longer alive,” he said. “All that is left for us to do is to keep on working as hard as we can and rebuild what is lost.”

(Michele Chabin is RNS’ Jerusalem correspondent)


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